Thursday, February 28, 2013

Today's newspaper article

Sticking to the train theme from yesterday, today’s article is from “The Australian” and talks about the plan to upgrade the Indian rail system:

Indian railways a lot nicer, for some

  • by: Amanda Hodge, South Asia correspondent
  • From: The Australian
  • February 28, 2013 12:00AM
INDIAN Railways - the rattling arteries of the subcontinent - is to receive a luxury makeover with plans to introduce a high-dollar train carriage boasting the sort of amenities most Indians could only dream of.

While the bulk of the country's train-travelling public will continue to battle crowded, dirty compartments and privies that drop their loads straight to the tracks, the new Anubhuti coach with its plush seats, "zero-discharge" toilets and internet access will be added to selected train services across the country.

The announcement was one of the headline features of this week's annual railways budget, coinciding uncomfortably with news that a Bhopal rail official had been burnt to death by an angry mob after two children were run over by an express train.

The children, aged five and 12, were crossing the rail tracks with their mother when they were hit by a speeding train. The suburban station has no pedestrian over-bridge, despite repeated lobbying by locals.

The accident highlighted the failure of successive rail ministers - who have used the portfolio as a populist platform - to upgrade basic facilities for the more than 25 million passengers who ride the railways every day.

So vital is the country's rail system, it has its own budget. Traditionally released several days before the annual federal budget, it proves an often handy forecast for the direction of government spending for the coming year.

If the latest rail blueprint is any indication, India's 2013-14 general budget, to be unveiled today, will feature a combination of hard economic decisions and conspicuous election sops for ruling Congress Party faithful.

In his maiden budget late on Tuesday, Rail Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal claimed to have honoured his promise not to further raise passenger fares before next year's federal election (following the first fare hike in 12 years last month), though booking fees, cancellation costs and freight rates will all rise this year.

Mr Bawan promised to introduce a reliable internet booking service and improve hygiene and catering on passenger services.

Perhaps more revealing was his announcement that the new Anubhuti (spiritual experience) carriages would be built at the RaeBareli coach factory in Uttar Pradesh - the electorate held by Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi.

Opposition MPs yesterday ridiculed the plan as a "RaeBareli budget", pointing to the allocation of six new projects to Sonia Gandhi's electorate and another to Amethi, held by her son and Congress scion Rahul Gandhi.

A government-commissioned study last year found that 15,000 people died in an annual "massacre" trying to cross Indian train tracks, and another 1000 died after falling from overcrowded compartments or in train collisions and derailments.

The study noted successive rail ministers had introduced new passenger trains with no heed to their financial viability or the need to enhance infrastructure to cope with those services.

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